Law in Contemporary Society
_Note: I have refactored this conversation and started a new topic on choosing CLS over a public state school here._-- KeithEdelman - 30 Mar 2009 For a documentation of what we experienced at our admitted students day and how we made our decisions, there is a separate topic here.

Cheering for CLS at Admitted Students Day

For the last few days, I have found myself cheerleading for Columbia at various admitted student events. Young recently commented in class that he found himself robotically spouting pro-law school sales pitches to admitted students at the last of these programs, and he had to stop himself from perpetuating “the con.” I don’t know if I’ve just completely guzzled the law school Kool-Aid, but I find myself very happy to be here at this point in my life. It doesn’t FEEL like I’m conning anyone, but Young’s point has been running through my head all day, and one girl mentioned to me this morning that my happiness made her want to come here.

Our discussions on this wiki and in class have made me curious to know whether being happy in law school puts me in the minority, and whether any of us are having internal conflicts when interacting with admits for this admitted students program.

-- MolissaFarber - 26 Mar 2009

My thoughts on this are a bit sequential, in that first of all, I'm not totally sure I buy into the notion of "the con" being present here. The bottom line is that people in law school generally want to begin a legal career, and law schools facilitate that in a way that must consider a multitude of other factors. Are there things we could do better? Sure, absolutely. But in general, I don't think for most people the negativity is at a sufficient level to discourage others from going here.

Secondly, if you want to be pragmatic about the actual admitted students program, there is no reason to believe that the other schools these students are looking at are any different than us in terms of 'conning.' I suspect virtually all of those visiting are going to attend some law school, so why not encourage them to join our community, or at least show them what we have to offer? There is no reason not to be honest, and admit problems if asked. But the real 'con' in my opinion would be to give the admitted student a negative report about the school, without disclosing that most of the issues are system-wide. I am not trying to come off as a schil or lackey, but with regard to the issues we have discussed, I don't think it's reasonable to tell someone who is going to law school anyways that CLS has unique flaws in such regards.

-- AaronShepard - 26 Mar 2009

This is a really interesting topic, thanks to Molissa for posting. It makes me wonder what Veblen would say about the Admitted Students Program. I would venture to say that Columbia could care less whether its enrollment decreased by 5-10% because it displayed its acoustically sub-standard rooms (such as 106, where we will be having class today). So the program probably isn't based on a display of strict pecuniary prowess. I think what scares everyone in this "community" - ourselves included - is that people would cease to think of Columbia as quite so prestigious law school, especially in comparison to other top law schools. We would all be affected by such a change in people's mindsets, and as such we all have an interest in keeping up appearances.

One other thing worth mulling over: Moglen's class is not listed on the program as a class that admits can attend, and it wasn't listed when we were admits. Quite the coincidence, huh?

-- HelenMayer - 26 Mar 2009

I'm really glad this point was touched upon in class today. I didn't mean to suggest that Admitted Students Day WAS a con, as Eben and Aaron pointed out, but I agree that we do seem to focus more on the con aspect of Leff's piece than the sale aspect (or on the possibility of distinguishing the two). I hope we can still continue the discussion, kool-aide or not.

-- MolissaFarber - 26 Mar 2009

Helen and I noticed that Eben’s class was not listed in the Admitted Students program. I found it interesting because when I visited classes at different schools last year, I found some of them to be excruciatingly bad, and noted the professor to myself as one to avoid if I attended that school. I wondered why the Admissions Offices would bother to list classes that would not depict the school in the best light in a program for Admitted Students. They certainly weren’t a selling point for the school. Looking down the list of classes that CLS did advertise to Admitted Students, I saw one elective in particular for which I’ve yet to hear a good review on the substance or style of the class.

I wish CLS would advertise our class instead of the other. I agree with what Aaron said about why it likely was not included, but I’m still disappointed. The fact that it was not walks the line for me between sale and con. While I don’t always agree with what Eben says, I value the fact that he says it and that I have the opportunity to hear it alongside my other, more typical classes, and I think that would be a selling point for CLS. I remember talking with other admitted students last year at various schools about whether or not the professors were open to different ideas and perspectives. I think it says something about Columbia that taking a class like ours is an option in our first year. I told a few students yesterday about Eben and our class, and gave one student the information to attend today. Unfortunately, I didn’t see her in the room.

-- CarolineElkin - 26 Mar 2009

Regarding being scared about losing 'prestige', this has pragmatic consequences for everyone associated with CLS, whether we like it or not. I don't think that that is necessarily something to scoff at. Furthermore, I would prefer to get really intelligent people at Columbia that also really want to be here, and so 'keeping up appearances' by putting a good face on things seems to be a reasonable thing to do.

Regarding the class not being on the list of ones to attend, I think there are a few other reasons than the one you subtly hint at. The first is that quite frankly, even for many people in the class (myself included), the material is sometimes over our heads. Additionally, we can all agree that this class is not representative of what most classes here are (whether this is a good thing is another topic). Clearly though, the actual content is a bit inflammatory, and could draw reactions; this is likely not something the admissions staff wants to risk. I for one find the class enjoyable and stimulating, but I don't think it warrants criticism of the admitted students program that our class wasn't included. Overall, I feel like perhaps there is a small amount of 'con' by not discussing the relative problems of the school, but in the end this seems harmless compared to the relative merits of the sale.

-- AaronShepard - 26 Mar 2009

I too think that its a mistake for Columbia not to alert admitted students to the possibility of attending this course. When I came to the admitted students day I was already pretty sold on Columbia, but if I had sat in on this class I think I would have been even more sold on the idea. Sure, its not for everyone, and I think it would be a mistake to only offer this class as representative of most of the classes here - but there's no danger of that happening. As is it, I think that the fact that this class exists says something about Columbia that would be appealing to some admitted students. At the very least it shows that we are confident enough to criticize ourselves and that part of the 1L year is conducted in a healthy and vibrant intellectual environment. [Perhaps some of us would take issue with the "healthy" part of that last sentence, but it would be hard to argue that the class isn't "vibrant"].

-- PatrickCronin - 28 Mar 2009

Responding to Molissa's original post, I certainly am happy to be at Columbia Law, but the comment I made a few weeks ago arose from a specific instance at a reception event in which I observed a fellow 1L glorifying Columbia's public interest focus to an admit. Hyperbole and pandering aside, what bothered me most about the whole sequence was that the admit knew exactly what answer to expect and the student knew exactly what answer to give - the whole thing reeked of a con. Finding myself perpetuating the same script, first as an admit and later as a student, was more than a bit disturbing. Now, I generally try to avoid such inquiries when talking to admits. Instead of telling the admits about things they probably can't understand or be interested in until they actually interface with the law (e.g., public interest), I generally try to let my happiness with Columbia shine through. If anything, the approach makes me feel less like a conman.

-- YoungKim - 30 Mar 2009

what bothered me most about the whole sequence was that the admit knew exactly what answer to expect and the student knew exactly what answer to give

This is an interesting observation. The question I get asked most often, and I'd imagine it's probably the same for many of us, is whether Columbia is very competitive or cutthroat. I happen to believe this is just a stereotype, although it's certainly possible I am not as sensitive to the competitive aspects of the school as others might be. In any case, this question seems to be asked only so that the Admit can get the boilerplate answer that "no, it's just a're competitive with yourself...etc."

I don't think that necessarily marks a con, however. As an Admit myself, I don't remember thinking that Admitted Students Day was a fully honest representation of the law school - the entire program was filled with obvious sales pitches for this-or-that aspect of the school. Even more, I remember needing to hear people tell me the school wasn't competitive, and I kept asking the question because each identical answer helped me feel better about a decision I wanted to make but was partly afraid to make (the decision to attend law school here). If the admits want to hear those platitudes, then can an admitted students program still be a con?

-- MolissaFarber - 1 Apr 2009

Past Experiences from Admitted Students Day

Did others attend Admitted Students Day last year? In my experience the program is strictly tailored to selling students deciding between Columbia and NYU (to the point where the programs are scheduled on subsequent days).

Prof. Moglen today discussed California residents deciding between Columbia and public universities. I don't recall anyone asking or discussing this. Did anyone have this experience? As I remember it was heavily focused on promoting public interest work, to combat the widely held view that NYU is public-interest oriented and Columbia is Wall Street oriented.

I certainly don't remember anyone discussing the relative merits of going to law school at all or not.

Do others want to discuss or share their experiences from last year? For those this year -- what are you telling people to whom you are talking?

-- AndrewCase - 26 Mar 2009


Thank you for talking about your decision-making process. I think there is a lot to tease out there and I found the other responses valuable. My real question is about the admitted students day -- did you come for admitted students day? Are the arguments you set forth those that were put forward by the school, or did you come up with them somewhere else (family, friends, work contacts)? On a side note, as someone who taught people how to take the LSAT, I can assure you that the test is not a measure of "intelligence" or anything else (other than itself).

I think there is a lot of good in this post, going in many different directions. I am glad Theo took the initiative to work on the discussion of reality. If someone wants to volunteer to refactor the portions on what we "envision" ourselves doing vs. what we may actually do, I will volunteer to work on the specifics of what we are pitched/sold on admitted students day. I think in order to discuss or critique it we should understand the process.

-- AndrewCase - 30 Mar 2009

[On a purely practical/realistic note, many of us who were considering CA schools for the in-state tuition have spent all of our lives in CA and many also chose to attend undergrad at CA public schools for much the same reason. So I wouldn’t underestimate the sheer draw of a new city/coast/people in people’s decisions to come to Columbia. (I was extremely close to going back to Berkeley for law school, but I considered it a kind of copout route, having already spent 4 years there, and with the knowledge that I was likely to end up back in CA. It was pretty much NYC now or probably never.]

-- EldonWright - 30 Mar 2009

I attended admitted students day at both NYU and Columbia last year. They sold me the prestige of the school, the expertise of the professors, and the dynamic current students. Do any of you remember the amount of materials that Columbia sent to you after you were admitted? What else would you expect the school to do?

I do agree that the interaction between present and prospective students at the events follows a script. But we can easily change this: just make a conscious effort to be very thoughtful and as honest as possible in your discussions with admitted students next year.

-- WalkerNewell - 01 Apr 2009

To sum up my position, I simply posited a number of reasons why someone would choose Columbia for reasons other than "prestige" and how well they "conned/sold" us on the idea of attending Columbia. Sorry if this response is woefully inadequate, but I got a bit confused with the ensuing fracas and now I'm not sure what I should be responding to anymore.

-- AlexHu - 02 Apr 2009

In my opinion, the admitted students event experiences should not be different based upon where it is you're choosing between. I think that the most helpful people I spoke to were the forthright ones who knew that they can't really compare their law school to other schools (since they don't attend them and only know superficial information that the admitted students also know). People will make their own decisions based upon their perceptions at each school; all we can do is try to provide an accurate representation of Columbia's academic life, student organizations, and faculty. On the other hand, telling individuals why Columbia is better than say, NYU, makes it seem like we are trying to prove something. I've always adopted the cliche, honesty is the best policy; we don't want people attending our law school for the wrong reasons (because someone convinced them at admitted students day) and later despising this atmosphere. If we let them know what exactly it is that Columbia offers, then students can make the best choices for themselves. Sometimes that will mean choosing Columbia over "higher prestige" schools (and sometimes it will mean the opposite), sometimes it will mean convincing someone that law school is the right decision for them, and hopefully it will always mean an accurate explanation of the competitive nature of law students.

-- LaurenRosenberg - 02 Apr 2009

I think the role of students in the admissions process is not to sell the merits of the school, but instead to demonstrate that the students at Columbia are honest, friendly, outgoing, level-minded thinkers. Admissions explicitly tells us that Admits judge our school based on how "cool" we appear to be. In order to guarantee a good performance, admissions supplies free wine and fancy finger food which, in contrast with the long hours of reading and Famiglia pizza we are used to, puts us in an amicable mood. From my experience with Admits, the substance of what a current student tells them is not nearly as important as how that current student carries him or herself.

Admissions does not need us to lie, they just need us to show up.

-- AlexanderUballez - 02 Apr 2009

I think there are several ideas interacting with each other here, but what seems to stand out is that ultimately, how many people feel about their experiences at admitted students day is animated by comparing Columbia with other schools. I agree with Lauren that people's impressions should not be dictated by "where it is [they]'re choosing from," but for many of us, I think it is an unavoidable--and admittedly very faulty--starting point, subconsciously set or not, in translating our admitted-students-day experiences.

In Khalil's conversation with Professor Moglen and the rest of the class today, Khalil said that there really is no difference between School A and School B--that they're all the same. I wonder how many of us really, deep down, think that. In me, the party line behind which my multiple personalities (try to) rally seems to be "That's right--I think there is absolutely no difference." But I'm sure this is an indulgence in my self-righteousness, as it is difficult for me to ignore the creeping suspicion that I am flat out lying to myself. But maybe there's more to discuss about my disingenuousness. If we all ask ourselves whether or not we agree with Khalil's statement, and find that most of our answers (sincerity assumed) are in the negative; then maybe there really is a difference between School A and School B. In other words, our misconceived biases create and perpetuate the difference. Then eventually future applicants, employers, and donors buy into the con, and it all gets "formalized" into a ranking.

I remember when I attended the admitted students day as a prospective student, every hour or so I would find myself in a pocket of other prospective students discussing whether NYU or Columbia was more highly ranked. And yesterday for April Fool's, the Student Senate sent out a prank e-mail to the student body about Columbia's drop to number nine in the U.S. News ranking of law schools--tied with Duke and UPenn. The e-mail's subject line read, "We're fine with 9!"

What else explains this hierarchy creation other than law students' competitive nature, as Lauren mentioned, and BigLaw's fiction that, out there, there are "elite" law students among "ordinary" law students--and that these "elite" students "deserve" to work for BigLaw's "cream of the crop" firms?

-- JosephLu - 02 Apr 2009

What kind of difference between schools are we talking about? Quality of education? If so, yes, I would guess that there truly is no difference between Wylie's school, the University of Virginia, and (say) Yale overall. Career opportunities the school's name opens up for its students? Yale might have an edge there, but usually not a decisive one.

I don't think it's just law students' competitive nature, and I don't think we can blame it all on BigLaw, either. At a public interest job interview I had a few weeks ago, the lady interviewing me frankly admitted that because of the economy, she had a flood of applicants who would normally go to firm jobs, and so they were chucking out all applications that weren't from top schools. ("We're only looking at kids from schools like Columbia now," were her exact words.) We live in a credentialist society where a school's name does matter, and it matters for law especially because (unlike medical schools) there's a widely-held perception that some law schools are easy to get into and succeed in. It also matters because many of us simply do not have much law-related work experience, especially when we're applying for our first summer jobs. So employers go by the school name because it's the only hint they have of what we can do. When we're out of school for a few years, I suspect our collective attachment to the hierarchy will diminish considerably. We'll have other things to pride ourselves on. What struck me as weird about Wylie's reaction to bragging about one's law school is that, well, shouldn't he be over that by now? And shouldn't the Yale guy also be over it? The fact that neither of them were suggested to me that Wylie was an especially insecure person and that the Yale guy hadn't done anything much since graduating from Yale.

As for how Columbia "sold" me on itself: it was pretty simple, Columbia was very close to home for me, I heard good things about it from a lawyer I worked for, and it is prestigious. Since I think the prestige of one's law school opens a lot of doors, and do not seriously believe that there are massive differences between the quality of teaching and student life between various "top" schools, prestige played a big role in my decisions on where to apply and consider attending. Was this a con? I don't think so, but maybe. I've no way of finding out, really.

-- AnjaliBhat - 03 Apr 2009



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